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Column: It’s not the Christmas we wanted, but it’s the one we were dealt

A fir tree sprouts cones on a Christmas tree farm.
It feels as if we’ve landed in some kind of time warp. After almost two years of sacrifice, fear and confusion, we have to start all over again.
(Max Whittaker / For The Times)

As I thrashed around in the middle of the night last week, in a bed crowded with notebooks and newspapers and two sleeping dogs, I must have rolled over onto my eyeglasses. I found them mangled, with a broken frame and crooked earpiece.

Not a problem, I thought. I’d finally get the new glasses I needed. I’d been postponing my eye doctor visit, waiting for COVID-19 to end and not imagining that it might take years.

So there I was in the optometrist’s crowded showroom with tape holding my glasses together and two masks layered over my nose and mouth. I scanned the room and ran through my pandemic checklist: Everyone was masked, there was plenty of hand sanitizer, and employees were constantly wiping things down.

Logically, I reasoned that was good enough. I’m vaccinated and boostered and could study the racks of glasses without breaching six feet. But when I finally found a frame I liked, I realized I couldn’t know how it would look unless I pulled my face masks down.

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Heart pounding at the thought of that, I handed the frames back and dashed outside to hyperventilate. Better to wear duct-taped glasses than to wind up on a ventilator, I thought as I headed to my car.

I know that is a false equivalent. But my thinking has been warped over these last 20 months by the deadly pandemic that won’t stop stalking us. And I know I’m not alone.

This was supposed to be a makeup holiday season, the Christmas when “faithful friends who are dear to us, gather near to us once more,” as the carol extols. Instead it’s giving a weird sort of deja vu.

It feels as if we’ve landed in some kind of time warp. After almost two years of sacrifice, fear and confusion, we have to start all over again. Already weary from battling Delta, we’re now gearing up for its evil twin, Omicron.

That’s bound to be particularly galling to folks who diligently followed the rules. We stayed out of restaurants, wore masks in the stores, shrank our social circles and lined up for vaccines.

And it was finally paying off, or so it seemed. Until this new, hyper-contagious variant dragged us back to no man’s land.

That’s done more than put a damper on holiday celebrations. What is surging now is not only COVID-19, the disease, but new waves of sadness, worry, anger and disappointment.

Remember how relieved and elated we were last December when COVID vaccines were triumphantly unveiled?

Our long medieval nightmare seemed near its end. We’d all get our shots and go back to traveling, hugging family members and drinking with friends. Instead, we found out how fractured our country can be — and how much we depend on one another in our quest to stay healthy.

Now I can’t help but wonder if I will ever feel comfortable going unmasked around strangers again. And “just trust the science” is no longer the remedy it used to be.

Is this just a more contagious but less dangerous version of COVID-19? Will vaccines hold the Omicron variant at bay, or has it evolved to elude our antibodies? What does “two to three times as likely to spread as Delta” really even mean?

My mind is too tired to start doing risk calculations again. In fact, without the possibility of a normal holiday season as a touchstone, I no longer have any sense of what day it is or where in the calendar we are.

What I do know is that my three daughters and two granddaughters will be here for Christmas this weekend. And on Saturday, I will probably cast off tradition, set the table with takeout and borrow our Thanksgiving ritual of expressing what we are each grateful for this year.

Because if the last year has made anything clear, it’s that tidings of comfort and joy may sometimes be in short supply, and we will all have to make peace with uncertainty.


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